Celebrating International Holidays Without Offense

Considered a buzz word to some, and deeply personal to others, cultural appropriation is a very important concept to understand and internalize. But, what is cultural appropriation? Simply defined, it is taking something with high cultural importance of another’s culture and using it for your personal gain or enjoyment. A prevalent example of this is using cultural garb, such as tribal headdresses as costuming, if you aren’t a part of that culture.

With such a melting pot of cultures, and a love for celebration, it can sometimes be easy to skirt that line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Appreciating a culture is honoring it but not trying to own it. An example of cultural appreciation would be to purchase cultural artwork that was made by somebody in that particular culture, such as a beaded art piece made by an indigenous artist.

How does all of this relate to celebrating holidays? With so many holidays in our society from many different cultures, it’s easy to want to celebrate them all – especially to help with exposing ourselves and our children to cultures outside of our own. The key is to do so respectfully. We’ll review a few of the most commonly appropriated holidays and discuss ways to respectfully celebrate them.

Cinco de Mayo. While almost all Americans know about the holiday Cinco de Mayo, most don’t know what the holiday actually celebrates. It is a celebration of a Mexican victory against the French army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. While this holiday is often used as a reason to go out drinking and wear sombreros – it’s a better opportunity to use it as a way to celebrate Mexican culture. Do some research on a good authentic Mexican dish – or even better, order from an authentic Mexican restaurant. Wearing a sombrero would be considered cultural appropriation, but watching movies that showcase Mexican culture would be appreciation.

Hanukkah. The first step here is to acknowledge that Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas. Other than the timing on the calendar, they are completely different. Hanukkah is a celebration of the miracle of light, with the oil lasting eight days when it should have only lasted one – which is why there are eight days of Hanukkah. Many synagogues, including Temple Emanuel right here in Winston-Salem, extend an invitation to the community to the first night’s lighting of the candle and use it as a way to teach the community about the holiday. Another good way to celebrate is to make latkes (a traditional Hanukkah food which is a potato pancake fried in oil) and watch a movie about the holiday – “A Puppy for Hanukkah” by Daveed Diggs is a personal favorite.

Juneteenth. The celebration of when the last enslaved person was told about the Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth has been celebrated for many, many years but only made a national holiday in 2021. A question many outside of the community have is how to celebrate Juneteenth without being offensive. A surefire way to celebrate that should not be emulated is to enforce stereotypes – such as making fried chicken and watermelon for dinner. A better way to celebrate is to support a black-owned business, donate to an organization that works towards helping the community and educate yourself on injustice and how to work together for a better future.

The main takeaway on how to avoid cultural appropriation is respect and education. If you want to acknowledge a holiday or custom that is outside of your own, educate yourself. Educate yourself on why the holiday is being celebrated, how it is being celebrated and how you can join in without centering the holiday around yourself.


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